Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 12 January [1869]

Date: January 12, 1869

Editorial note: The annotation, "1873," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00611

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Cathy Tisch, Felicia Wetzig, and Wesley Raabe



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12th of January1

My dear walt

it seems like an age till i2 got your letter to day3 i was glad to hear you was all safe i have had a letter from heyde4 saying hanna5 is much better that she sleeps better and come out in the room to her meals i have got a box of things for her6 shall send them on thursday i got 10 1/2 yds of muslin and two dresses one a gingam and one delain and a can of peaches and some other things and george7 will give me 2 dollar to put in) i put a note on the bundle a christmas present from walter to hanna so i hope she will get them all safe) i also got a letter from matty8 yesterday saying she is better that her coughf is much better and she raises scarcely any they have a large parlor and their meals brought in and dishes took out at 200 dol per month)9 george went but only stayed a few days they was repairing the works i told him when he went i was going to rest all the time but i was taken with such a lame back and side i was in a bad state for a few days but i have got better now) the house is a dooing this fine weather past has been good to work georgey seems very much pleas[d?] with it)10 this is a short lette walter dear i wish you could get a better room11

These peeces of a letter came here last week directed to you we could not make them out it came from new york


Notes:

1. This letter dates to January 12, 1869. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter 1873. Edwin Haviland Miller dated it 1869 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:361; 2:367), and Randall H. Waldron agreed with Miller's date (Walt Whitman: An Extensive Collection of Holograph Letters written to Walt Whitman by His Mother Mrs. L. Whitman, vol. 2, 1868–1873, note for letter 121, Trent Collection, Duke University). Sherry Ceniza used the package that Louisa sent to daughter Hannah (Whitman) Heyde to date this letter 1872 (Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers [Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998], 10, 242, n. 1). Bucke's date is incorrect because Louisa Van Velsor Whitman was in Brooklyn, not Camden. The year 1872 (Ceniza) is plausible, but the year 1869 (Miller and Waldron) is correct, primarily because this letter echoes a January 1869 letter from Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. Waldron observed, "the letter from Mattie to which [this letter] refers was written 1/7/1969" (Walt Whitman: An Extensive Collection, vol. 2, 1868–1873, note for letter 121). This letter has many paraphrases and near verbatim quotations from Mattie's January 1869 letter: on her cough, on the family's living arrangement in a parlor, and on the cost of their board (see Mattie Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, January 7, 1869, Randall D. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 63–64). Louisa received Mattie's letter "yesterday," and four or five days was the usual time for mail from St. Louis to Brooklyn. Louisa's verbal echoes of Mattie's January 7, 1869 letter are too many to be disputed. The date 1869 is further affirmed by Louisa's concern that Walt Whitman will find a "better room": he was dissatisfied with the residence of Mrs. Newton Benedict (see his August 24, 1868 letter to Louisa) but had returned to the Benedicts in early November 1868. In addition, the brief mention of the house on which George Washington Whitman is working (at 71 Portland Avenue) is consistent with Louisa's late April 1869 move to that house. [back]

2. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt Whitman was the second. For more information on Louisa and her letters, see Wesley Raabe, "'walter dear': The Letters from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt" and Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)." [back]

3. Walt Whitman's January 11?, 1869 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is not extant (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:361).  [back]

4. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's younger daughter, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1890), a French-born landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [back]

5. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's younger daughter, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892). Hannah in late 1868 suffered a serious thumb infection that led Dr. Samuel Thayer to lance her wrist in November. In early December Dr. Thayer amputated Hannah's thumb. For Louisa's report to Walt Whitman on the initial surgery, which is based on a letter from Charles, see her November 28 to December 12, 1868 letter to Walt. For the surgical amputation of Hannah's thumb, see Charles Heyde's early December letter to Louisa (Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 225). Edwin Haviland Miller dated Heyde's letter "[a]bout December 8" (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:72–73, n. 37). [back]

6. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman sent this gift box to her daughter Hannah (Whitman) Heyde on January 14, 1869. For additional details on the enclosed contents, see Louisa's January 19, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman. For Louisa's preparation of gift boxes, which Sherry Ceniza has designated "care packages" and compared to Whitman's poetry, see Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998), 10–12. [back]

7. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted in the Union Army in 1861 and remained on active duty until the end of the Civil War. He was wounded in the First Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and was taken prisoner during the Battle of Poplar Grove (September 1864). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with a partner named Smith and later a mason named French. George eventually took up a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

8. See Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's January 7, 1869 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 63–64). Louisa's description of living arrangements in this letter is an extended paraphrase with many near quotations from Mattie's letter. Mattie (1836–1873) was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa. In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to St. Louis to join Jeff, who had moved there in 1867 to assume the position of Superintendent of Water Works. Mattie suffered a throat ailment that led to her death in February 1873. For more on Mattie, see Waldron, 1–26. [back]

9. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's comment probably expresses some shock that one could spend such an extravagant monthly sum for meals. Randall D. Waldron doubts that the figure could be accurate (Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 75). However, Thomas Jefferson Whitman's salary of $6000 per year was able to support boarding expense of such magnitude (see Louisa's May 5, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

10. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman refers to the house that George Washington Whitman was building at 71 Portland Avenue. She and son Edward moved from 1149 Atlantic Avenue to the Portland house at the end of April 1869 (see Louisa's April 25–27?, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman). For more on George's housebuilding business, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975], 30).  [back]

11. Walt Whitman had expressed dissatisfaction with the boarding arrangement in a room owned by Mrs. Newton Benedict at 472 M Street (see his August 24, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). But Walt had returned to Mrs. Benedict's house in late October or early November 1868 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:69). Also see Kim Roberts, "A Map of Whitman's Washington Boarding Houses and Work Places," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 22:1 (November 2004), 25. [back]


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